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Putting people first and why it matters

Deborah Owen-Ellis Clark discusses our People First approach, including the importance of customer research and how we’re seeking to continuously improve on our previous best.

It has been two and a half years since we launched People First. The strategy, which recently won gold at the Inspiring Workplace Awards, puts customers, colleagues and clients at the heart of everything we do, has led to a cultural shift at Places for People and underlined the importance of listening to our customers and understanding their needs.

Informed by our people

Our People First approach has been informed by extensive qualitative research we carried out in 2019. This involved 200 customers and 600 colleagues across the UK to find out how we could deliver better customer service and achieve sector-leading customer satisfaction.

The overarching feedback told us that we needed to put people before processes and empower our colleagues to do what is right for the customer. To achieve this, we needed to reset and change our way of thinking – leading to People First.

Based on the insights from this research, a variety of supportive materials have been produced to help meet our goals. These include a Customer Experience Journey Map to enable colleagues to see the home buying and renting process from a customer’s perspective.

A dedicated People First Microsite has also been developed along with bespoke training and templates to improve the sales and development process. These include a new Home User Guide and induction manual reflecting People First messaging and offering support and advice that is more tailored to our customers’ needs.

Enriching data

Our increased focus on putting People First led to further research last year. This saw us survey 10,000 members of the public to establish what our potential and existing customers at different stages of their life want from their next home and the key factors that influenced their decision.

Through this, we learnt that across different groups of people, a sense of security and privacy are top priorities along with private gardens, and easy access to local amenities and public services.

Homes in a town, village or in the suburbs are preferred to city centre living and half of respondents said they would be looking for either a detached or semi-detached house when they next move, compared to just 12 per cent who are seeking a terraced house and 18 per cent who prefer a flat/apartment.

Young families and first-time buyers are more likely to be looking for a house while empty nesters and those of retirement age are more likely to opt for a bungalow.

The powerful insights gained from this survey will enable us to more easily understand the factors that influence people’s decisions when choosing a home, ensuring we can better meet our customers’ needs.

The next phase of our customer research programme will further strengthen our commitment to being a People First organisation. This will involve further analysis of our existing customers as well as prospective renters and buyers to explore the types of information people are seeking when searching for a new home and how they would prefer to engage with us. Our aim is to further enhance the customer experience for individuals at all points in their Places for People journey.

We are also planning more qualitative research to establish what factors could have the biggest impact on our customers’ homes and the places they live.

Continuous improvement

To keep improving and developing our People First approach, a Steering Group, including 20 Group senior leaders has been established as well as a Working Group comprising 50 colleagues.

The Net Promoter Score (NPS), a method of measuring customer satisfaction, has also been adopted across the Group to measure how likely our customers are to recommend us to others. Customers are invited to provide feedback through email and telephone surveys, and through a new NPS dashboard we can monitor and improve customer satisfaction on an ongoing basis.

Creating a movement

Embedded in business plans across the Group, People First is creating a movement that is empowering colleagues and ensuring customers and clients feel valued.

Ongoing training is provided to colleagues to help support our aims. This is delivered through virtual workshops, accredited by the Institute of Customer Service (ICS). A range of topics are covered, including listening skills, using plain English, handling complaints and measuring customer satisfaction.

The training has been awarded the ICS Training Mark and to date, more than 6,000 colleagues have signed up to take part. A total of 1,000 colleagues have achieved an ICS certificate and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Nearly 92 per cent of those who have taken part agree or strongly agree that they gained skills they can use immediately in the workplace.

We will continue to drive, develop and improve People First to deliver positive change across the Group. This will ensure we can keep listening to our customers, understanding their needs and tailoring services, homes and places that enable people of all ages and backgrounds to thrive and improve their lives.